Grateful

The last couple days have been thankfully, gratefully, blessed with lower anxiety. So even though I still have suicidal thoughts, they don’t hook into the anxiety and become obsessive. They float in as any thought does, and they float out, blessedly. It’s such a huge relief!

I’ve been busy doing nothing, and exercising occasionally, and moving forward with relearning some college algebra that should help when I start taking those science classes in the fall. I’ve been trying to read, but maybe I need to give up on this book. It’s just not getting anywhere. Or I can’t focus for very long, which is a feature I run into regularly. Maybe I’ll try another book for a while.

My mood is a little low, but still in the balanced arena, I think. As happens when I’m depressed, I’m fatigued for hours after I wake up, despite jolts from coffee. And I cancelled on some times to get together with people, another sign of depression for me. I’m not convinced either way that I’m depressed or not depressed. Time will tell?

Not Just Grieving or Angry

I still have near constant suicidal thoughts as discussed in my last post. I’ve researched some possibilities to carry it out, and come to the same conclusion that my primary method is the best for me, AND I cannot do it because several methods are hidden from me by my family.

So there. I’m safe. Just miserable and wanting to end the misery. And the best way to end the misery seems to be to follow the thoughts’ plan.

My thoughts seem to say “I’m not fleeting. I’m persistent. Do it. Here’s a scenario.” Sometimes this repeats ad nauseum. Sometimes I can look with the self and notice that they are thoughts, and see that they are not coming from the Self. But even when I can create distance in this way, I do not know from whence the thoughts cometh. Arguably, from bipolar. The diseased part of the brain. Yet that is part of me. I can’t yet see bipolar as Other-Than-Me, when it comes from MY brain. How can I even distinguish diseased-brain from me-brain? My cognitive abilities are so hampered, even when my mood is in the middle, neither depressed nor manic. So much of ME is taken up by diseased-brain with all the cognitive jumble and lack of function I live with. It’s amazing I can even drive.

My thoughts also seem to say, “I hate this limping life. This is not the life we signed up for. I expected some good things, such as lasting relationships, an interesting career, and a developing/ed intellectual self. What is this hobbling along day-by-day, hour-by-shuffling-hour business?”

I’m grieving – Still! – the life I had and thought would continue. But it’s more than grief. I’m angry at being robbed of this life, but it’s more than anger. I’ve sat with these emotions and phases Multiple Times. Sometimes, like a few posts ago when I was signing up for college classes, I seem to have accepted, or at least embraced this limping, hobbling life bipolar has left for me, and made some good fortune happen.

When all is said and done, and I’m alone with my bipolar and suicidal thoughts, I Have Not Accepted that this is my life. I think that’s one reason why I want to end it. What else do you see in this mess? Help me.

Suicidal Ideation

A clawing, gnawing at the inside of my breastbone. Tears behind my eyes, but not released. Anxiety creases in the forehead. A fluttering heartbeat to my left, blankness and emptiness of the soul to the right. I see how I will do it in my head, over and over and over.

I’m noticing everything in this moment. This is what I experience in my body Every.Bloody.Time I have suicidal ideation. Which is minimally every couple hours, and right now intensely every other minute. It interrupts reading, watching tv, even doing algebra this afternoon, and while in conversations.

I watched youtube videos of Steven Hays giving ted talks about psychological flexibility and putting the mental brakes on thoughts. He is one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_therapy) which is the therapy that finally worked for me. I’ve been practicing it for years now. The reminders in the videos helped me a bit. Hours later I’m still using tips.

I tried something, and stopped because it hurt more than planned. I’m not going to do anything, yet I’m plagued by the sensations and thoughts I described. It’s miserable and horrible.

I don’t want to go to the hospital, nor do I think it would help. My mom, though not currently in a position to help, has hidden things I could use to hurt myself. This is as safe an environment as it could be, I guess.

I don’t think more ECT would help, though my mood feels like it dipped, and I find it easy to fall into old thought patterns besides the suicidal ideation. I had a long and emotional Friday and Saturday getting certified as a NAMI support group facilitator, something I’ve wanted to do for years! But it wore me out mentally and emotionally. Which could lead to a natural mood dip, which is why I think ECT would be overkill since the depression should lift after more rest (my hunch).

Several doctors and several therapists have come to independent ideas that I just have suicidal ideations as obsessive thoughts (OCD) and there isn’t anything that will stop them. If I didn’t have the anxiety of whether my life was threatened or the bodily sensations I described, it would be a little easier. How do I live with this terrible debate and these sensations with no way to rid myself of them, to fight them, to welcome or accept them?

College – Reprised

I’ve had an exciting week becoming a college student again. Now, I already have a bachelor’s degree, 2 master’s degrees plus a diploma showing an academic concentration. So I really don’t need any more education, now do I? But I really want to do a Ph.D in sociology. Not sure of the specific topic yet, but I do know it will be sociology. Whether I teach or have a job, I want the degree for me. And it would be fun to be called Doctor!

I still have bipolar brain though: poor memory, concentration, focus and judgement. And this is even in my stable mood! It gets worse when I’m in a mood state. So I don’t even know if I can take a class, understand it, and incorporate the learning into a paper or test. I forget that I saw a movie a couple weeks after I see it, forget remembering Oscar movies I saw a year ago!

And reading! Reading is challenging. On the one hand, I’m reading more books: I surpassed my Goodreads app challenge of 30 books last year. But unless I scroll through the list of books, I can only remember one, maybe two, books. When I look at the list I can describe plots or main points of maybe only a third of the books. As I’m reading I often forget what previous chapters contained.

So, how am I supposed to do graduate school reading and writing??? Well, I start small. Let’s see if I can even take and pass a class, any class. I excitedly looked through the course catalog of the community college near me, noticing what piqued my interest. True to my nerd-ling beginnings, the lab sciences biology and chemistry (not physics, sorry Big Bang Theory enthusiasts) stood out. I had been a biochemistry major when I started my Bachelor’s degree 26-ish years ago. Another subject caught my manic attention and I abandoned my first love and changed my major. I did, however, promise myself I would go back and take those science classes later in life.

And here I am! I’m a college student again, taking those bio and chem classes I wanted to return to, just doing it one class at a time to be easy on my brain. I want to take so many science classes that I could earn an Associates of Science, if I take some additional General Education classes. The advisor I spoke to said it might be easier (i.e., not duplicate classes I already took even though they are 26+ years old) to earn an Associates of Arts even though I want to do lab sciences. But no decisions on that yet. I can decide later if I want to apply my classes to a degree. Like I need another one. 😄

Back to becoming a college student… This week I learned I was accepted to begin in the summer session, met with an academic advisor, registered for a class (no science classes were available, darnit, nor were any Gen Ed classes available in the classroom, only online), cleared my account in the business office, filled out the dreaded FAFSA, got my ID card, met with the Office of Disability Services, and finished getting school supplies and NCTC swag.

About that last meeting… The staff told me that for the mood disorder I am eligible for double the amount of time for tests, an alternative testing location (The Testing Center), help with taking notes, the use of a recording device in class, and a reserved spot wherever I need in the classroom. Those may all be helpful – especially since I’m probably not as good at taking notes anymore – but what I really might need is excused absences and late homework if my mood flips out again and I’m not functioning well anymore. Apparently my doctor or therapist would have to state that I will miss class or be late with homework, not just keep it as possible. So accommodations are possible. Just need the documentation.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for accommodation. Would I end up being known among the faculty for my disability only, the bipolar and anxiety student, instead of the curious and dedicated student who returned to take science classes? Then I remembered you, my dear readers, and that I am open and vulnerable about my bipolar experiences on the internet, for heaven’s sake. Maybe I can be the bipolar and anxiety student who succeeded, or at least tried!

A Month of Me

Who am I in this new mental state? I really don’t know! I had my last ECT a month ago, a Month Ago! My mood is stable; my thoughts about death and suicide are not. They continue to come and go, intense sometimes, fleeting at others. I deal with them with some ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ) coping skills my therapist has me using. Sometimes those work to bring down my anxiety and miserableness. And sometimes not so much. He likes that I report back on how much skills work or not. I just want the thoughts to stop! But they don’t.

Along with a mood that is in the middle – neither depressed nor manic – I have energy to get out of bed in the morning, and energy for each day. I’ve even somehow managed to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, that I’ll end up in a suicidal depression again and end up in the hospital. I have optimism and hope for the future and hope that I can accomplish a goal set in the future. In a week I’m doing a training to be a facilitator for NAMI Connection support groups. Starting next week I will be the short-term facilitator of a small group I’m in. In May I’m going to walk in the NAMIWalks 5K, which means training and fundraising for the next 3 months. AND I applied to the community college near me to take a bunch of science classes I never got to take during my college years. The first class starts in June, and there are several things to do before then.

Besides these plans I’ve made, I’m also currently on vacation in Chicago and its polar vortex, visiting friends and my old stomping grounds. My mood has remained calm despite a change in my return flight, cancelled plans and the weird memories. Yup, weird memories. I lost most of the geography of this area in the ECT, but it started coming back after seeing the routes I used to take. Places I used to go don’t have very many personal memories. And where I live now has very few personal memories as well. I’m almost only living in the moment, like a cat. (Yay! A cat!)

What have I discovered about myself in this month of… competency, flexibility, stability? First, I’m learning to trust myself to hold a steady mood, despite thoughts that scare and annoy and aggravate. Second, I now know that part of the reason I’m doing better is because I have housemates. I know I can’t live alone. Where I will live or move is up in the air, but many wise people have advised that I spend some time adjusting to this new phase before making big changes. Third, I’m recognizing the traits and values that make me, me. Compassion, justice, volunteerism, friendship, for a start.

I hope, hope, hope that I stay stable. I’m a little scared thoughts will take over. I want to take this time to get to know myself as a stable person – limits, weaknesses, strengths. I haven’t felt this good – ever! I’ve been in a mood state, untreated. Now? I have possibilities!

Sick, But Well

I am still steady, stable, in the middle with my mood! I have more energy. I wake up ready for the day. I have hope that I can do things in my life, not just have energy for them now, but also not be interrupted by a hospitalization. I haven’t felt this good perhaps ever!

But.

But I continually have breakthrough bipolar symptoms. I have obsessive suicidal thoughts and visions of me killing myself in one of several ways. (Sorry to be graphic.) I get anxious over little stuff. I get overwhelmed with too much stimuli, like too much driving or being in line at the pharmacy with lots of people around. I wake up too early sometimes and can’t get back to sleep.

The most distressing of the symptoms remains the intrusive, suicidal thoughts that are accompanied by such unhelpful thoughts as the world would be better without me, I don’t add much to anyone’s existence in any kind of unique way, and I would rather just check out and find eternal unconscious sleep. See? Unhelpful accompanying thoughts, besides visions of killing myself.

Then today I heard the Matchbox 20 song “Unwell” on the radio, and I’m again realizing that I am sick. I have bipolar (and other medical and mental illnesses), and it doesn’t go away. I’m always making allowances for how my brain works, whether fighting against how hard it is to concentrate or remember, or fighting against intrusive or obsessive or earworm thoughts. Bipolar runs my life.

But…my mood is stable now, for however long I get to have one. So, am I sick, or am I well? How is it that I have an even, good mood that lets me hope for a good future AND I have obsessive suicidal thoughts? AND near constant anxiety that breaks through regularly? And other symptoms? Am I sick, or am I well?

Post-It Note to Myself

You are feeling good! You can get to this place again!

So says the third post-it on my bathroom mirror. Both my psychiatrist and my therapist insisted I do something to remember this time. “Most people don’t remember their good times. They forget and think it has always been this bad.”

My first post-it says, “Bipolar is just one part of me.” I don’t believe that right now, but I used to believe it and maybe I will again. The second post-it says, “You are brave and courageous.” I believe that one finally, even after a couple friends have spent years telling me that. These post-its are signposts of health I want to follow. I added a third one only because it is so important.

I have changed so much in the last 10 months since my move to Texas. Healthier, mood stabilized (for now), happy, motivated, energized. I feel I have to put that caveat in there since, as my therapist said, moods change. I can be honest that I will fluctuate. And my psychiatrist expects narrower swings. So the future might be closer to a healthy person’s mood changes. I have to tell myself it might be possible to have a positive future.

My therapist reminded me that it’s not just the 23 ECT treatments that brought me here. I worked hard for this. I learned and practiced dozens of coping skills. I’ve been through dozens of medication changes. Each of my 40-something hospitalizations has led to increased health and stability. I have spent years in weekly therapy, and I have bared my soul to multiple psychiatrists. I cultivated caring and dedicated support systems. I could go on.

The two sentences on my post-it contain all I have written here. This blog post will be one I return to, I hope.